Sheridan has stirred some interest…
First, a nod to Andy, who in his comment to my last post noted that both McCook and Sheridan mention going to Thomas in response to an order. That’s true enough, and on the face of it, should clear up everything.
Sheridan was ordered to take two brigades to Thomas immediately, and move up the third when he could. In his report, Sheridan says he was just moving when the breakthrough came.
I don’t really doubt that statement, but I find the whole situation a lot more complex and unclear than it would suggest.
Captain Beverly Williams, an ADC of McCook’s, has some specifics: He says the order to move to Thomas was received at 10:55, based on his watch when it arrived. He puts the breakthrough at between 11 and 11:10. That’s not a lot of time. (Note, other staffers place the ‘break’ at 11:30 or Noon, but they might be talking about the collapse of Sheridan’s line, not Davis’.)
Williams claims that he took the order to Sheridan, who was, in Williams’ words “endeavoring to bring up his troops.” This suggests that Sheridan’s men were already moving when Williams arrived with the Thomas order. If so, where was Sheridan going? Williams then says he accompanied Lytle (Sheridan’s lead brigade) and was with him when they discovered Hindman’s Rebels. McCook then appeared and ordered Lytle to support Davis – either just before or just after McCook ordered Laiboldt into action.
McCook’s report hits a couple of false notes which make me wonder. For example, McCook claims he was suprised when Wood moved his division. This is disingenous at best; and designed, I think, to save his butt in a court-martial. We know from other testimony that McCook was with Wood when that order arrived, told Wood to go “immediately” and so was fully aware of Wood’s departure.
Wood was only there in the first place because McCook was too slow that morning in finding men to replace Negley. There is at least an implied rebuke from Rosecrans here. It also explains how Laiboldt’s Brigade, of Sheridan, was deployed on the eastern face of (soon to be christened) Lytle Hill in column of regiment in line, awaiting further orders. McCook apparently intended Sheridan to replace Negley. When Wood came in, his line was still short a brigade, so Laiboldt was again tapped to fill in that smaller gap. Before that could happen, however, Wood borrowed Barnes’ Brigade from Van Cleve, and Laiboldt, with no where else to go, halted on the hill with the understanding that he would now support the new line. At this point, Davis also re-deployed, forming up on Wood’s right, and Laiboldt further understood he was to support Davis.
I also think Sheridan was already moving, perhaps in response to the tardy order to replace Negley, long before the order to Thomas arrived.
Here’s where the timeline gets hard to figure.
McCook leaves Wood to find a replacement. Two of Wood’s brigades depart and clear the area; Buell’s Brigade does not, and is attacked while marching north behind the Brotherton Cabin. Buell’s brigade then retreats, fighting most of the way, to Dyer Field.
In the meantime, Hindman attacks and overwhelms Davis. Hindman starts later than the rest of the Rebel attack, by at least a few minutes, and it takes at least 30 minutes to crush Davis – which means that Laiboldt doesn’t see Rebels for 30 to 45 minutes after Wood is first ordered to leave.
What did McCook do during that time? It’s closer to noon when he arrives and orders Lytle and Laiboldt into action. Does Sheridan’s move mean he’s going to Thomas or did McCook somehow supercede that instruction and intend to use Sheridan for Brotherton Field, instead? McCook went to great lengths to downplay his involvement in the fateful order to Wood, which means he might not have wanted to suggest that he was modifying Sheridan’s instructions to go to Thomas.
It is also possible that McCook thought that the gap could be filled by bringing up Laiboldt and shifting one of Davis’ Brigades (Heg’s, now commanded by Martin, and barely 600 men strong) which had been in reserve. Martin was moving up and to the left when attacked, so at least that portion of this surmise is correct, but Laiboldt was stationary for a good half-hour while the fight in Brotherton field was going on.
The regimental and brigade reports in Sheridan’s division don’t mention going to join Thomas. Instead they all mention being shifted only a few hundred yards – in a great hurry – and going into action right away, as if in response to the breakthrough. Now this might just be due to circumstances, and proof of nothing, but I do find it suggestive. Perhaps they never realized their was an order to join Thomas. Lytle, who might have known, was of course dead and could make no report.
Sheridan’s remaining two brigades moved only about 1,000 yards before becoming engulfed in the fight with Hindman. They probably had been moving less than 30 minutes – and probably started moving after McCook told Wood to follow the fateful order immediately.
It’s those roughly 30 minutes that bug me. Where is McCook? What is he thinking? Why has he not sent an order to either Laiboldt (if he intends to just use Laiboldt) or to Sheridan (if he’s going to use the whole division?) By the time he appears and orders Laiboldt to charge, he’s clearly rattled, and already aware that disaster is unfolding. Laiboldt and his officers take note of McCook’s state, and protest the order to charge; they’d rather stay on the hill and receive Hindman’s attack. Instead, of course, they have to go forward.
It’s quite possible that the timing was just perfect, and purely accidental – Sheridan was acting on the order to join Thomas at the exact minute that McCook was confirming Wood’s move, and so Sheridan’s coming up just as Laiboldt engages was coincidental. It’s also possible that Sheridan while understood he was going to join Thomas, as the breakthrough unfolded he simply pitched in where he was. That sort of detail might be too obvious to include in either a report or a memoir. All in all, however, I wish Sheridan would have given us a better window into his thinking during this crucial half-hour.